Friday, July 31, 2009

Roughnecks Prelim

I've been watching Roughnecks: Starship Troopers on Veoh for the last couple of days. I vaguely remembered being impressed by the series when it first aired, and now that I'm watching the episodes in order, I've got to say that it's about as good as I remembered.

I didn't much like the Verhoeven film, but the series improves on the film in some major ways. What's ultimately frustrating about the series is the limitations they had to impose in order to produce a kid-friendly animated series, as well as the variable quality among the episodes (the production schedule was so mismanaged that they had to farm the work out to four different companies to get all the episodes done, and they still ended up four short).

I'll have more in depth to say about the series after I've worked my way through it. I'm about a third of the way through right now.

But one thing I can say is that I prefer Hulu to Veoh. I haven't had as many glitching/freezing problems on Veoh, but they have never, not once, caught a commercial break in the right place. It's always 3-4 seconds off. So the scene will cut right in mid-dialogue, you'll get a crappy Honda commercial with some Obama voter blithely asserting that the next 30 years will be full of "horrors" that will leave us "traumatized" (but buy a Honda anyway), and then the program comes back for a few seconds before fading to black on a cliffhanger that comes back almost immediately. It's annoying.

I also like the way Hulu organizes their content. Veoh's filters do the same crap you get in spreadsheets, where the number 10 immediately follows 1, and you have to scroll to the 20's to find episode 2. Plus their thumbnail take up a lot more room. Hulu lists shows in proper order, with thumbnails on appearing on mouseover, so you get more choices on one screen.

But Hulu doesn't have Roughnecks, so I'm making do with Veoh for a while.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Moment of Truth

Well, it looks as if my account is coming up for renewal. So now I'm stuck wondering if it's worth scraping together eighty bucks to maintain Big Audio Wednesday for another year, or just let it fade into oblivion. I really enjoy Big Audio Wednesdays, but being unemployed makes it hard to justify keeping the feature going.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Big Audio Wednesday - Rocky Fortune

So last week I posted the Jack Benny episode that prompted me to start talking about old radio shows on here, and I mentioned that this week would continue the Sinatra theme. Thus this week's two-episodes-for-the-price-of-one special: Rocky Fortune.

Sinatra was well known as a pop music star/heartthrob, but by 1953, his acting career was starting to take off as well, so NBC gave him his own starring vehicle. Sinatra played Rocco Fortunato, aka Rocky Fortune, a small-timer fromn New York who takes odd jobs from an employment agency and always seems to get involved in murder and mystery along the way.

The shows are breezy and fun, and Sinatra's casual approach to Fortune stands as a stark contrast to the more straitlaced heroes of the usual detective and mystery shows.

Two episodes here, presented for your enjoyment. In the first, "Companion to a Chimp," Fortune is hired to take care of a simian TV star, a take-off on J. Fred Muggs, the chimp who was a regular mascot on the Today Show at the time this episode aired (Muggs later got too old to do TV, so NBC replaced him with Katie Couric).

The second episode actually has a sci-fi connection. It's "Rocket Racket," in which an eccentric Texan millionaire hires Fortune to test-fly his prototype spaceship. The episode was written by show creator George Lefferts, who had previously worked on the science fiction anthology shows X Minus One and Dimension X.

Click the widget and enjoy.

Monday, July 27, 2009


So when I was watching Angel on Hulu, I kept seeing this intriguing title among the A's. Aquarion was some kind of giant robot anime series, and I like watching giant robots blow stuff up, so I figured I'd give it a try once I was done with Angel.

Aquarion is about Apollo, a street kid who gets dragged into a battle between an agency called Deava and the Shadow Angels, a mysterious force which sends giant Harvest Beasts to hoover thousands of people up off the streets for some unknown purpose. Deava battles the Harvest Beasts and their monstrous Cherubim guards with an ancient giant robot known as Aquarion. Apollo is recruited because Deava suspects him to be the reincarnation of Apollonius, Aquarion's first pilot from 12,000 years ago, as recorded in the Book of Holy Genesis.

After the first couple of episodes, it was apparent that this was a rip-off of Neon Genesis Evangelion. A mysterious government agency using giant robots to battle an invasion by grotesque creatures from who-knows-where ("Angels" in NGE, "Cherubim" sent by Shadow Angels in Aquarion). The man in charge seems to have his own designs based on some esoteric knowledge. The main robot pilot is a teenage boy who has a bickering love-hate relationship with a female co-pilot. There's a creepy albino girl whose cryptic statements reveal she knows more than most about what's really going on, and a pretty blonde scientist in charge of technical stuff. Gratuitous biblical references and the Tree of Life from the Kabbalah.

And of course, there's a big-ass control room, where lots of technicians monitor the fights while not contributing in any apparent way.

But unlike NGE, which took pains to subvert as many anime cliches as it could, Aquarion plays everything more conventionally. The hero is your typical brash know-nothing, whose secret past and incredible natural talents cover for his ignorance (see Naruto, DBZ, Bleach, etc.). The antagonist are shown plotting their counter-moves, and the main antagonist has a personal grudge against Apollo (actually his grudge is against Apollo's former life). The team gradually comes together through adversity, culminating in a big battle which the good guys win.

But the thing that's really weird about Aquarion is the kitchen sink nature of the thing; it seems cobbled together out of random elements to try to appeal to every possible audience.

At heart, it seems like a typical robot series designed to sell toys to young boys. For instance, whenever the three fighter jets merge into Aquarion, we get a dramatic toy pose.

But at the same time, there are lots of philosophical discussions and angst, seemingly designed to attract older audiences who made shows like NGE a hit. Then again, it plays in many parts like a shojo series for girls. Lots of emphasis on romance, and as many variations on romantic coupling as they can come up with. There's Apollo and Silvia (the reincarnation of Apollonius's first love Celiane):

But Silvia actually spends most of the series denying her attraction to Apollo and involved in a rivalry with fellow female pilot Reika for the affections of Silvia's brother Sirius, on whom she has a major crush (that's right, Silvia spends most of the series in love with her brother). Reika, meanwhile, is pining for Glenn, another pilot who has been left comatose as a result of a battle in the pilot episode, and is also being pursued by Tsugumi, a nerdy female pilot. There are other relationships, too. Nobody ever hooks up, but out of 14 major characters, there are at least 8 romantic pairings floated out there, hetero, homo and incestuo. Oh yeah, and there's a vampire.

Which is not to mention this guy, big bad Shadow Angel Toma, who is still pining for his ancient lost love (I don't want to spoil it by revealing who). The series has not one, but two tall, thin, androgynous main characters designed to appeal to teenage girls.

As the series progresses, it continues to steal, I mean, homage elements of NGE. The government, not wanting to put all of their eggs in the Deava basket, use captured Shadow Angel technology to build an assembly line version of Aquarion (to be fair, NGE took the idea from Gundam, but still...). A young humanoid Angel confronts the pilots and is killed late in the series, setting up the final confrontation. The head of Deava is deposed by the government, but rebels. In one late episode, dead bodies sprout flowers that contain their prana energy (a device stolen from Betterman, itself a bad NGE imitator).

The most interesting/oddball element of the show is the overtly sexual references to "merging," the process in which the pilots of the three fighter jets join spiritually as their vehicles are joining physically to form Aquarion. In NGE, the EVA pilots were literally babies in the womb. In Aquarion, the pilots are all cumming their brains out. Money quote from Silvia's first merge:: "Oh, it feels so good!"

And it's not limited to just throwaway shots during each merge sequence. In the first episode, Silvia is jealous that Sirius's first time is with Reika, not her. In the episode, "The First Merge," we see female teenagers in the shower asking one of the girls about merging ("I've heard everyone's nervous the first time"), leading to a scene between Tsugumi and Reika where Tsugumi eagerly asks, "What was it like the first time you merged? Were you nervous? Did it feel good?...Silvia said it feels great no matter who you're with."

The sexual metaphor manages to get even more explicit in the episode "Mischief Without Malice" (which seems to have been entirely animated by a different studio--the bulk of the episode is a dream/illusion using different character models influenced by shows like FLCL, but even in the "normal" scenes, everybody's off-model), where Silvia can't help but slip a finger down there during her merge (hope she cleaned up the cockpit after--other pilots have to use those controls, you know).

And need I mention that this means that every episode features a threesome (since it takes three pilots to merge into Aquarion)?

So anyway, bottom line: opening episodes are intriguing but flawed, middle episodes (especially 14-18) absolutely awful, final arc disappointing.

I started to watch something called Glass Fleet after this, but it was pretty bad, too. Political drama approximating the French Revolution in Space or something, with a female main character that everybody keeps referring to as a man. Then I tried something called xXxHolic, which is sadly not about porn addiction; it was a goofy "comedy" about a guy who sees spirits or something. First ep didn't grab me at all.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Flash vs. Trickster

So I've been watching this anime series called Aquarion on Hulu, which I'll probably talk about tomorrow, but got bored with it just before the final climactic episodes (never a good sign) and somehow ended up on VEOH. And while I was browsing the sci-fi episodes to see what they had, I noticed they had the entire run of The Flash, the live action series from 1990.

Well, I'd never seen Mark Hamill's Trickster episode which everyone says is the best of the series, so I figured, what the hell?

Turns out, there were two Trickster episodes and I watched the other one.

Not that I didn't enjoy it. I did, but more for nostalgia value, not because it was any good. This was the last episode of the first season, which is to say the last episode of the series, and I wonder if they knew they weren't getting picked up for another season, because the entire episode has a "what the hell" feel to it.

The episode is titled "The Trial of the Trickster," and it was written by Howard Chaykin and John Francis Moore. The Trickster is going on trial for the events of a previous episode, in which he kidnapped private detective Megan Lockhart and tried to brainwash her into becoming his girl sidekick, Prank. Trickster escapes from custody during the trial thanks to the help of a spoiled rich girl named Zoe Clark, who wants to be the new Prank. Trickster and Prank then kidnap Flash and the Trickster brainwashes him into helping him start a reign of terror over Central City, including putting the judge and attorneys on trial for crimes against the Trickster.

Mark Hamill mugs and giggles as The Trickster, channeling Frank Gorshin's Riddler from the 60's Batman series at times. And just listening to him, you can hear why he got the role of the Joker in the Batman animated series a couple of years later. Of course, any appearance by Hamill anywhere gets geek interest points because of Skywalker, so there's nostalgia point one: Mark Hamill.

Megan Lockhart, the detective who won the Flash's heart but has no time for him now that she's famous, is played by Joyce Hyser, who's mainly remembered by 80's movie geeks like me for her starring role in "Just One of the Guys," a comedy about a high school girl who poses as a boy to try to win a journalism competition. She was also in "This is Spinal Tap," so she will be a hero forever. So nostalgia point number two: Joyce Hyser, playing a woman.

Joyce's high point in the episode, BTW: during the trial, the Trickster escapes his handcuffs, and she decks him. We then see our only glimpse of Hyser leg, because she switches to slacks for the rest of the show. Joyce's low point: when Prank throws a bunch of sharpened steel chattering teeth on her, and she has to lie on the floor covered with chattering teeth and pretend this is really threatening. Career note: people got paid to come up with this idea and perform it.

Prank is played by Corinne Bohrer, who has played a hundred different love interests and housewives on TV series and commercials. I developed a crush on her years ago when she played Herman's girlfriend on the pilot episode of Herman's Head. But then they never brought her back, which is probably why the show got canceled so quickly. Don't fuck with Corinne. Nostalgia point number three: Corinne Bohrer.

This is not Corinne's best work, unfortunately. Not to get all drama-criticy about a throwaway comic episode of a TV series about a cartoon character, but the big problem with her performance here is that she was having too much fun, like Burt Reynolds in "The Cannonball Run." You can tell she's having real trouble keeping a straight face, like Harvey Korman on Carol Burnett (and if you want to throw cold water on a nostalgic crush real quick, try comparing your dream girl to Burt Reynolds and Harvey Korman; brrrr).

Then again, she did rock the cleavage a couple times, so I forgive her.

Although check out the big 80's hair. And yes, even though this was technically 1990, tell me those checks and polka dots on Hamill's breastplate there don't scream 80's, as well.

Oh yeah, the Flash was in it, too. He ran fast.

Although that was the main problem with the Flash as a live action character. He moved quickly, but in order to let the audience see what he was doing, he never moved that fast. He was the slowest super-speedster I've ever seen, and certainly not fast enough to merit that long red blur behind him. Smallville does a much better job of portraying super-speed, although to be fair, they've got much more advanced technology to work with, as well as the conceptual leap of "bullet time," which was not a glimmer in anyone's eye in 1990.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Out of the Vault - Beyond the Grave #2

Beyond the Grave #2Back in the 70's, the soon-to-implode comics market was ruled by Marvel and DC, with several now-defunct smaller publishers fighting for newsstand space alongside them. There was Gold Key/Western, which made its money primarily on movie and TV tie-in titles. There was Archie, which published its popular teen comedy comics. There was Harvey, which slanted towards a younger audience with its tie-ins to obscure Famous Studios animated characters and its Casper spin-offs.

And then there was Charlton, which tried, on occasion, to compete with the big boys, but failed. But Charlton did succeed in luring away some major talent from the big two, and its characters are doing better today than when the company was in business (due to DC acquiring the Charlton stable in the 80's and integrating them into its own continuity).

In 1975, Charlton decided to do a horror book, and the result was Beyond the Grave. When I covered that issue of Badger last week, I was prompted to go through and look at almost my entire run of Badger (I didn't actually read them all, but I skimmed a lot) and noticed that directly after Badger came this Charlton Comic with a Steve Ditko cover.

So I opened it up and discovered once again why horror comics never worked under the comics code. I'm amazed DC was able to do it so well for so long with House of Mystery and House of Secrets.

The first story is titled "Die Laughing," and it's the tale of Droxton Cadfish, a circus clown who never gets any laughs. His boss tells him to find some funny material by his next performance or lose his job, and then a little girl happens by. Cadfish tries to make her laugh by squirting water in her face, and when the joke backfires, he gets frustrated and strangles her.

Bad clown! Bad!The next day, two more kids wander into his trailer and taunt him about his lousy performance the night before. They demand he do something funny for them, so Cadfish plugs 'em. Man, he's a sucky clown. Then he kills his boss, in full view of the circus audience. He's so getting a ticket for that. But no, too late, because he's now haunted by the ghosts of his victims, who won't stop laughing at him. Poetic justice.

The next story, "Mr. Moody's Amazing Hats," is about a guy named Mr. Moody who collects the hats of famous people. His butler and maid narrate the story to each other while we watch Mr. Moody, a harmless old eccentric, bash some target dummies while wearing Genghis Khan's hat, then do some painting in the basement while wearing Leonardo Da Vinci's hat.

Hatman! Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-Hatman!All in good fun. But then Mr. Moody dons the hat of Raffles, the famous jewel thief, and goes out to steal some jewels (followed by the butler and maid, who apparently don't have actual jobs to do). This causes the butler and maid to worry when a new hat is delivered and Mr. Moody produces a top hat. Might it be the hat of... Jack the Ripper?

Nope, just Houdini, who apparently wore the hat "in his famous disappearing act!" Moody puts the hat on and vanishes. Poof! Ridiculous, but what more do you want for four pages?

Which leads into the cover story drawn by Steve Ditko which fills the back half of the book. It's not very good--an overly complex story about a general in a small country who apparently got bribed to throw a battle or something, because war=baseball. A ghost appears just as the general is announcing his engagement. The ghost accuses the general of treason, which a handy police inspector in the crowd is quick to pick up on. He demands to interrogate the general, but the general has been planning for this.

He fakes a heart attack and summons his doctor, who gives him a drug to simulate death. Then they take him to a mortician, who has been bribed to construct a special coffin which will supply air to the comatose general. Then they have a funeral and burial, at the police inspector's insistence, because he suspects funny business. The plan is for the general to be dug up several hours later and skip the country with the millions in his safe.

The doctor and mortician discover that the money the general has paid them is counterfeit, so they both go to his house to raid his safe, where they discover that all his money is counterfeit. At which point the general's ghost appears and tells them to hurry up and dig him up already, cause he can't breathe.

Ditko hands in Ditkovision!The two men rush to the graveyard and dig up the coffin, where they discover that the general has asphyxiated (which they might have suspected from the, you know, ghost) because the air vents in the coffin became clogged with mud. Like, good job building a coffin with air holes when you knew it was going to be buried, genius. Then the inspector appears to arrest them both for grave robbing; he received a note alerting him to be here from the general (who was dead at the time). Dun dun dunnnnnn.

Yeah, it's way too complicated and makes no sense. But hey, at least it's Ditko, although that's little comfort. There are no wacky poses, just a little crazy Ditko lighting and some subdued Ditko hands.

Lookin' pretty fly for a dead guyAll of this is hosted by a green guy in a black suit, following the tradition of DC's Cain and Abel, who followed in the footsteps of EC's Crypt Keeper and Old Witch, who were themselves inspired by wisecracking radio hosts like Raymond of the Inner Sanctum. He never introduces himself while introducing the stories, but the letters page identifies him as Mortimer Tishin (heh-heh). Not bad as names go, though the character design could be improved. He's not very memorable.

But neither were horror comics in general. There was never any actual horror in them. The Comics Code didn't allow it. They were usually morality plays played more for laughs than scares (although that had its origins in the EC comics that prompted the Code in the first place-what offended Wertham as much as the gore may have been that it was played for laughs).

The main lesson to be learned from all this? Black looks hella cool on the cover, but it takes fingerprints like nobody's business (look at the above cover scan to see what I mean). Still true today, kids. Wear gloves when reading a black-covered comic, if you want to keep it mint (well, actually, don't even read it if you want to keep it mint, but that's stupid).

Friday, July 24, 2009

Oh Man

I just found out that Fatburger filed for bankruptcy in April. That sucks. I didn't eat at Fatburger regularly when I lived in L.A. I saved it for a special treat. For instance, I went to Fatburger to console myself the day Digger died. There's nothing like a King Egg Chiliburger to lift your spirits.

I hope they work things out. Someday (when I'm employed again), I might head back to L.A. and I'd like to have a Fatburger while I'm there.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Big Audio Wednesday - The Benny That Started It All

The first time I really posted about old radio, more than 2 years ago, I mentioned an old Jack Benny episode that I'd heard on local radio. Frank Sinatra was the guest, still early in his career, his Vegas years with the Rat Pack still ahead of him, so all the jokes about him were either about his sex symbol status or about how he was so skinny.

So I was searching around for something cool to post, and found some stuff with Frank Sinatra, but figured I'd post this first. So click the widget and enjoy this episode of Jack Benny. It's good on its own, but it also serves as a good teaser for next week's Sinatra two-for-one.

Monday, July 20, 2009

One Giant Leap

Forty years ago today, the Eagle landed. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first two men to walk on the moon.

It's hard to remember now how big that day was. I remember the entire family gathered around the television, me lying on the floor in front of the set, watching a fuzzy, ghosted image of Neil Armstrong climbing down the leg of the LEM (Lunar Excursion Module, for you kids who don't remember) and giving his famous "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" quote, his voice clipped by the radio transmitter. Among her many family snapshots, my mother has a photo of the TV showing Armstrong descending, with the words "Live from the moon" emblazoned across the bottom of the screen.

Aldrin descended soon after. The impression I carry, all these years later, is that he seemed reluctant to step away from the leg of the LEM. He kept starting to step away, then grabbing hold again, like a kid in the deep end of the pool who's afraid to let go of the edge.

Which is not to slight Aldrin's bravery. All of the Apollo astronauts exhibited incredible courage just in climbing into the capsule to take the voyage. The entire thing was so dangerous, so beyond anything that men had attempted before, and yet, they made it look easy. Hell, the way Armstrong and Aldrin bounced around on the moon's dusty surface, they made it look fun.

All the sadder, then, that since the end of the Apollo program, we've never been back, let alone moved beyond. I understand that there are other, more practical, more humane things to spend the money on. Believe, being unemployed at the moment, I'm hyperaware of spending priorities and the need to address basics before luxuries.

If you've ever gone back to visit your former elementary school as an adult, I'm sure you've had the experience of feeling that everything seemed smaller on your return. That's the way it feels now to look back at the moon landing. Everything was bigger then.

Everything seems smaller now.

Footage of the landing can be found on YouTube.

ETA: I've always wondered what it was like to be Mike Collins, the third man on the Apollo 11 mission. He stayed in the Command Module, orbiting the moon while Armstrong and Aldrin went down to the surface. Imagine the incredible mix of pride and disappointment at being selected for the first manned landing on the moon, then being told you have to be the one to wait in the car, idling by the curb, while the other guys go party. Imagine the loneliness of being that designated driver.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Out of the Vault - Badger #29

One of my favorite comics of the 80's was Badger, a hilariously convoluted story of martial arts and magic that grew out of the simplest of taglines. As near as I can remember from an interview I read years ago, Mike Baron had been asked to come up with another comic to follow up his science fiction saga Nexus, but the publishers wanted a super-hero this time. So Baron thought about the idea, and his thought was this: "Put on a costume and fight crime? You'd have to be crazy."

And so Badger was born. Vietnam veteran Norbert Sykes has multiple personalities, including little girl Emily and suave murderer Pierre, but his fallback personality is the Badger, a martial artist who talks to animals and very occasionally fights crime. Badger lives with Ham, an ancient druid sorcerer who uses his magic to make a killing in the markets, and Daisy, Ham's secretary (she was also Norbert's caseworker until he was released from the mental hospital).

Issue 29, published in 1987, was a one-shot filler issue, a story completely out of continuity by Baron and guest artist Eric Shanower. In the story, titled "The Magic Word," Clonezone (an alien stand-up comedian featured in Nexus) is on stage, doing a bit about lawyers, when a heckler interrupts with "Whaddayou?! A lawyer?!"

Clonezone banters with the heckler, a huge cone-headed bruiser who keeps repeating his lawyer question, adding a little bit each time until he leaps at the stage in frustration. Clonezone then summons Badger from backstage to deal with the heckler. They fight, until Daisy bursts into Badger's room at the mansion in Wisconsin to tell him to knock off the noise. Seems Badger was dreaming or something.

So Daisy and Badger jump in Badger's car and drive to a local bar to get a drink. On the way, Daisy tells Badger of Ham's "Project Eight-Ball," a scheme to mess with space and time, so Ham can "resurrect dead movie stars and have them remake their greatest classics in color." They go into a bar called the Space Port, where Daisy notices that several of the people look awfully strange, and the view out the window is ships in space rather than Badger's car in the street.

But the oddity is forgotten when Badger's buddy Warren Oates (who died in 1982--Badger speaks to ghosts fairly often) calls them over to his booth. They are joined by Ham and W.C. Fields, who invite them to a game of pool (eight ball, natch). Turns out, it was Bill Fields who came up with the idea for "Project Eight-Ball."

So Warren and Bill play pool, until Warren says the wrong thing (notice also in the panel on the left that two of the spectators for the pool game are Space Ghost and Lion-O of the Thundercats):

The bruiser appears, chanting his mantra. Badger knocks him through a window into space and leaps out after him. He does not suffocate, but merely floats around making jokes until Clonezone grabs him and flies him to a nearby space service station, where they encounter Grimjack (star of another First Comics series). Badger and Clonezone narrowly survive a firefight between Grimjack and unnamed enemies, and all seems fine until Clonezone mentions lawyers. The bruiser appears again, this time in space armor.

Badger and Zone flee into the men's room and appear in the bar, where Bill Fields owes Warren Oates $2000. Badger begs Bill to rack and break, because earlier, the estimable Mr. Fields said that the break in pool was comparable to changing space and time. Badger hounds Fields until he mentions lawyers, at which time the bruiser enters again. Fields flees, but Clonezone grabs the cue to break. The cue ball leaps off the table and hits Badger in the forehead.

He wakes up in his room, where he figures out "it was all a ham-handed homage to Winsor McKay (sic)." Then Warren Oates and Bill Fields walk in. Fields suggests Badger sue Clonezone. "Of course, he lives in another dimension entirely. You'll need a good lawyer." Badger=facepalm.

The End.

At the time it came out, I wasn't thrilled with the story. It was fun, but entirely too random. Baron often walked a fine line between drama and silliness, and this issue of Badger was too far over the line for me. But over twenty years later, I still find myself occasionally saying, "Whaddayou?! A lawyer?!" and then being unable to explain why I think it's funny. So it was memorable, at least.

The next issue went back to regular continuity, in which Badger and his buddy Riley encountered an evil martial artist named Ron Dorgan, who killed a rival master and hit Badger with a delayed death touch. Badger and Riley must assault the island stronghold of Hop Ling Sung, Dorgan's master, to have the death touch removed.

To that purpose, Ham imbues them with the spirits of two ancient and powerful Celtic warriors, which they can unleash when in need by speaking a magic phrase. Once they reach the island, they are besieged by a large force of fighters, but Badger doesn't speak the phrase to unleash the magic warriors. Riley accuses him of having forgotten the magic word. Badger's reply?

Sadly, it doesn't work.

In the end, Badger and Riley defeat both Dorgan and Sung, resulting in Badger being invited to a mystic martial arts tournament which took place in the graphic novel "Hexbreaker."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Big Audio Wednesday - Theater Five

According to the notes on its Internet Archive page, Theater Five was an attempt by ABC in the 60's to revive radio drama. CBS would make another attempt in the late 70's with CBS Radio Mystery Theater.

Theater Five episodes open with a snippet of dialogue from the show, setting up a moment of tension, followed by the jazzy theme song. The theme song sounds like something from a TV show of the time, bombastic horns over bongos with an announcer giving the episode title as in a Quinn Martin show. "Tonight's episode: Incident at Apogee."

"Incident at Apogee," broadcast in 1964, isn't actually science fiction. It's a domestic drama that takes place during man's first walk in space (which occurred in real life on June 3, 1965 during the Gemini 4 mission). So it's more "ripped from the headlines" than speculative. But the actual sci-fi episodes of Theater Five were pretty awful, cliched stuff, so this episode stands out in that respect.

It was written by William N. Robson, an old veteran who in previous decades had worked on Escape, one of the best dramas on radio. In the early 60's, Robson had been making documentaries for Voice of America.

The early episodes of the series (of which this is one) feature fairly strong stories. Later episodes were weaker (not surprising when you consider how many scripts the show burned through at 5 days a week), and the series was dropped in less than a year after 260 episodes.

So take a deep breath, click the widget and enjoy "Incident at Apogee." There's no air in space, you know.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Out of the Vault - Prez #4

Yes, it is just a coincidence that Prez in the Vault Archives comes just after Power Plays. Okay, no it's not. I'd been meaning to do it sometime and it was right there, so now seems as good a time as ever.

So here's the deal: in the early 70's, DC, with much fanfare, hired Jack Kirby away from Marvel Comics. DC wanted to update their image and cut into Marvel's market share. At roughly the same time, DC began to make more extensive use of their archives, trying to lure readers with the extra value of pages and pages of Golden Age reprints as back-up features. In the Kirby books, of course, the reprints were of Golden Age stories by Jack Kirby with his then-partner, Joe Simon.

I don't know if that was what provided the spur, but at some point, DC then decided to hire Joe Simon as well. I'm not sure what made the suits at DC think that two old Depression-Era geezers like Simon and Kirby could attract the hip youth market, but they gave it a try, and in the process created some truly demented comics. Kirby came out with his New Gods series, followed by The Demon, OMAC (One Man Army Corps), and Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth.

Simon created such trivia classics as Brother Power, the Geek and Green Team:Boy Millionaires. And in between, he gave us America's first teen president in Prez.

detailed the story of Prez Rickard, a teenager who is elected to office by the massive new constituency created by the amendment allowing 18-year-olds to vote (in Prez-world, another law was passed allowing teenagers to hold all public offices as well). You can tell he's the Prez because he wears a red sweater with his own personalized Presidential seal on it (as seen on the cover above). Hmm, an American president with his own personalized seal? I thought this was supposed to be a fantasy.

Anyway, I only have issue #4, but it should give you an idea of the truly demented flavor of what Simon and DC were doing at the time. I'm going to describe the plot in some detail, because there is so much compressed into these few pages that it's an injustice to summarize.

Issue 4 opens with a man entering the hidden White House vaults and locating a secret file, where we're told "Here, for the first time, you will read all the incredible facts exactly as they happened!" Because that kind of opening worked so well for Ed Wood.

Next, we're swept away to the Republic of Moravia, where Prez and his FBI chief/sidekick Eagle Free are on hand for the opening of a new canal (built with U.S. financial aid) that will bring water to Moravia so they may irrigate their crops and bathe. That second bit is important, because it is the custom in Moravia that everyone wear garlic around their necks.

So Prez and Eagle Free jump on Air Force One--sorry, Prez's jet has been renamed the FreeBee--to fly home. As they're leaving, they notice a dark cloud just on the border of Moravia, and Prez notes that "it may be some country we haven't even heard of!"

Upon returning to the White House, Prez is summoned to the Groovy Room (really) to help negotiate with the Chinese ambassador. There, he finds Vice President Martha, a rather stout woman, playing a furious game of Ping Pong (sorry, table tennis) with the Chinese ambassador, because it's the only way they can communicate. The State Department has sent the wrong interpreters; a pair of silent black women in robes stand by the table, notebooks in hand, ready to interpret any Nigerian that happens to be spoken in the meeting. Hmm, an incompetent State Department screwing up translations? I thought this was supposed to be a fantasy.

Prez takes control, seizing the paddle from Martha as Eagle Free takes over interpreting duties through Indian sign language (seriously). The Chinese are upset over American relations with Moravia, but Prez assures them there is no problem.

If you check out the wallpaper in the scene above, you'll see why it's called the Groovy Room. Limitations in printing technology of the time didn't allow them to show the blacklights. The scene where Prez then gives the Chinese ambassador some DVD's and an iPod has been deleted from my issue for some reason.

That night, a bat-shaped helicopter flies in and lands on the White House roof unannounced. Nervous soldiers surround the aircraft as the passenger climbs out. It's a Wolfman! There's a fight that "wages though the early hours" until dawn, at which time the Wolfman transforms into a human, who claims that he has come for a summit meeting. He is the ambassador from Transylvania, you see. Well, sure.

Prez does not say, "what, they don't have phones in your country?" Instead he just asks where Transylvania is. He's told that it borders Moravia, and Eagle Free deduces that it must be under the black cloud. Ambassador Wolfman (whose briefcase is shaped like a small coffin) demands that the Moravian canal be destroyed, because it has diverted water away from Transylvania, which is now dying of thirst. "No way!" sez Prez, so Wolfman declares a state of war, by authority of Count Dracula the First, ruler of Transylvania.

Chapter 2 (lots of DC Comics broke their stories into chapters, for some reason) opens in a situation room, where Prez informs the gathered "gentlemen--and you chicks--it seems we are at war with a country we can't find." Apparently, the cloud cover is so thick in Transylvania that their spies can't see anything. The only thing they know is that legend has it Transylvania is a country of vampires.

That night, the mysterious coffin-shaped briefcase that Ambassador Wolfman left in the Oval Office (and which has sat undiscovered and undisturbed all day right next to Prez's desk) opens to reveal a legless vampire tied to a small wheeled cart like Eddie Murphy in "Trading Places." The vampire squeaks his way through a deserted White House to Prez's room, where he's just about to put the bite on Prez and make him a vampire, when Eagle Free bursts into the room in the nick of time, having just remembered the briefcase.

Eagle and Prez square off against the vampire, who claims he is indestructible. He has been tormented and crippled and staked seven times, and still he keeps coming back. He then attacks Prez with his incredible strength, but Eagle Free drives him off with a swastika--sorry, an "Indian Hooked Cross"--so the vamp wheels his way out of the White House and onto the lawn, where he bowls over about twenty Marines and jumps onto the bat-chopper for a quick getaway.

The Moravian ambassador next informs Prez that Transylvania is planning a sneak attack: the single airplane in the Transylvanian Air Force will air-drop a cargo of rabid bats over Washington D.C. Prez goes before Congress to ask for emergency war powers to deal with the situation, but they just ask "What have you kids been smoking" and start a Congressional investigation into the White House. Hmmm, Congress wasting time in frivolous attacks on the President in wartime? I thought this was supposed to be a fantasy.

Anyway, with no authorization from Congress, the only option appears to be Eagle Free's marvelous nature powers. You see, aside from being head of the FBI, Eagle Free is like a shaman or something. He wears a headband with a feather, lives in a teepee on the banks of the Potomac and communes with the animals. But don't call him a stereotype or anything. He hates that. Anyway, Eagle Free decides to send his bird friends in a kamikaze attack on the Transylvanian jet.

Prez accompanies Eagle Free to his teepee to see the birds off. As they paddle in Eagle Free's canoe, Prez comments, "The Secret Servicemen must be frantic," which is funny, because there's been no sign of a Secret Service agent anywhere in the book. They must be invisible or something. It's a comic book, it could happen.

So anyway, after a tearful goodbye, the birds are sent winging off toward the Transylvanian plane, which is also shaped like a bat (purchased from Wayne Enterprises, perhaps? Hmmm?) The birds swarm into the jet intake and shut down the engines. The plane, flown by Ambassador Wolfman and the legless vampire (could they not find someone else in Transylvania to fly the plane?), crashes into the Atlantic. All is well, except for the Congressional investigation, of course.

And then there's the matter of foreign aid. According to Eagle Free, America always helps rebuild the countries it defeats. So should they now use American dollars to rebuild the land of the living dead? That is, if they can find it?

I could tell them, don't bother. There were only two people in Transylvania anyway, and they were both on the plane.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Tha Cube

So like I said, I've been watching a lot of Hulu lately (halfway thru season 1 of Angel now). And one of the commercials they're playing a lot of lately is for the Nissan Cube.

And like I guess every car commercial nowadays, the Cube commercial includes the disclaimer "Professional driver on closed road. Do not attempt."

You see this all the time on commercials where the car is zooming along a winding road, cornering at high speed, or tearing across a desert kicking up huge plumes of sand in its wake. It makes sense there.

But in the Cube commercial (you can see the long version of the commercial on the Cube's website here), not only does the car not do anything even remotely dangerous, but the car is never actually driven on screen, as far as I can tell.

A guy gets into a Cube, then we see a miniature Cube being pulled along a moving road at a sedate speed. Not only is it not a real car, but the wheels never even turn. The only times we see the real car are when people are shown getting in and out (and I find the brunette in the white tremendously appealing in a low-key, distracted way), and it's parked then.

So do they include the disclaimer as a joke, or is our society now so hyper-litigious that we have to include disclaimers warning people not to emulate behavior exhibited by a model car that never actually even moves?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Big Audio Wednesday - Chick Carter, Boy Detective

I was hoping to track down some episodes of Blackhawk, but couldn't find any. So instead enjoy a quick episode of Chick Carter, Boy Detective.

When I was a kid, my mom had a record called "Themes Like Old Times," which featured the opening minute or so of about 60 old radio shows. Some of them were generic, but some were very distinctive, like the creaking door of Inner Sanctum or the dramatic narration followed by a snippet of "Night on Bald Mountain" that opens Escape.

One of the other most distinctive openings was Chick Carter, Boy Detective.

Chick Carter was a show about the adopted son of fictional detective Nick Carter, featured in pulp magazines and on his own radio show, Nick Carter, Master Detective. It was a kid's show, but it was no Encyclopedia Brown. In the episode posted below, Chick works with the police to solve a murder. This episode is nothing special, part of an ongoing storyline. I include it mainly because of the nostalgia of the opening.

The opening features a ham radio-sounding broadcast from callsign Mutual to callsign Y-O-U, immediately making the audience part of the story.

Click the widget to listen.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Random Buffy Observations

I've just finished watching the first three seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Hulu. I don't have a lot to say about that hasn't been said before and better by folks on a thousand different sites, I'm sure, but a few observations.

It's always fun to do that double-take that comes with seeing someone who was an anonymous bit player then, but who turned into a significant player on a subsequent show. The invisible girl in the first season ep "Out of Mind, Out of Sight" later became the FBI agent in pursuit of Sylar in the first season of Heroes. Late in the second season, an episode about Xander joining the swim team featured Wentworth Miller, later to star in Prison Break. In the pilot episode of Buffy spin-off Angel, one of the vamps who gets dusted pre-credits is played by Josh Holloway, now better known as Sawyer on Lost.

The third season credits rock. The theme song benefits greatly from the cutting of the scream and the addition of the gong at the end (okay, I'm pretty sure it's actually a tolling bell, but I just love to say "gong"). One weird thing I noticed; in the first ep of the second season, they added a silly whoosh sound effect to the shot of Buffy firing the crossbow. Then in the next episode and all subsequent episodes, the sound effect is gone.

But apparently someone on the show was determined to work in at least one sound effect in the credits, because in the third season, there was another, less silly whoosh in the shot of Giles swinging a torch. No other sound effects tied to any of the other action, just one torch whoosh. But somebody had to go to the effort of mixing that in there. Weird.

I know that it's been a long tradition in fiction to make characters smarter or stupider depending on the needs of the plot. I remember reading a comment one time about the Justice League, that they had in their ranks two scientists (Atom and Flash) and three aliens from worlds with super-advanced technology (Superman, Martian Manhunter, Hawkman), yet when they all got together, they would all turn to Batman and say, "What's the plan?"

But on Buffy, the characters veer to even more ridiculous extremes. Xander is the classic nebbish, cowardly and klutzy, until a vampire attacks, and then suddenly he turns into Batman, beating up vamps left and right. Similarly, Giles is all thumbs whenever he tries to train Buffy in combat. But when Giles is alone, suddenly his old Ripper instincts leap out and he's beating folks up left and right. And when Wesley comes into the picture, Giles suddenly becomes Errol Flynn, able to outfence Wesley while reading the paper in his other hand.

The show really suffered when it lost both Cordelia and Oz. They were characters who provided necessary counterpoints to the main cast. Oz was never adequately replaced, and Anya was a poor substitute for Cordelia.

Moving on to the first season of Angel now.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Out of the Vault- Power Plays

First off, let me just say, Happy Independence Day!

And second off, okay, fine, since I did Power Factor last week, let's stick with the "Power" theme and take a look at another independent publication, this time from 1983: Power Plays.

The rise of direct market distribution for comics in the late 70's and early 80's (rather than newsstand distribution) encouraged smaller publishers and even self-publishers to take a chance in the marketplace. They were further encouraged by the success of Dave Sims's Cerebus the Aardvark and the Pinis' Elfquest. In the early to mid 80's, the market was flooded with cheap black-and-white books all trying to be the next Cerebus or Elfquest,at least until 1984, when the market was flooded with even more cheap black-and-whites trying to be the next Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

And in 1983, one of those contenders was a fairly entertaining little self-pubbed book titled Power Plays, written and ilustrated by Mike Kelly. I don't know if Kelly ever did anything else; I can't find any other info on him.

While it was locked in the Vault for lo, these many years, I would occasionally remember it. The character's dialogue from the cover of the first issue was indelibly imprinted on my brain: "My dearest, dear friends! May I present: Power Plays"

I couldn't remember much about it, except that it was some kind of black-and-white superhero parody, something about a rich superpowered girl surrounded by a menagerie of losers, with an X-Men vs. Galactus parody in there also, which was a wicked send-up of Claremont's writing at the time.

So I pulled Power Plays out of the Vault and read it. The rich girl + misfits plot I had fairly down. The X-Men vs. Galactus thing, not so much. I was apparently confusing it with another black-and-white hero parody. That one's still in the Vault somewhere, and I have no idea what it's called.

Power Plays takes place in a world where superpowers have suddenly and mysteriously cropped up in a wide cross-section of people. A scientist named Thomas Appleton wants to study the origin of the powers and help people deal with them. He has gathered a group of super individuals around him as assistants/test subjects, along with a non-powered individual who wears a dog mask and calls himself Barker the Beagleman.

Barker's the real star of the book. Seriously. His only powers seem to be cynicism and a bad back. But he succeeds using wits where brawn fails, as in this scene where he defeats a super-villain using a can of quick-hardening plastic foam.

Barker and Appleton meet with incredibly rich and even more incredibly super heiress Kristel Montclaire at her penthouse, where she agrees to sponsor his research, as long as he and his people come to live with her. She likes to surround herself with special people like herself, you see.

In the meantime, an assassin with a super version of the Dim Mak Death Touch (he even looks a little like Count Dante) has been hired by a mysterious someone to kill Montclaire. He chooses to do the deed at the lavish coming-out party she hosts for her new housemates (where she repeats the "My dearest, dear friends" formulation, the one that stuck in my brain for twenty-five years when the rest of the book had faded).

The book turned out better than many independent efforts. It had charm and appeal in both the art and writing, although both needed developing. The book is pretty dialogue-heavy, especially on the exposition pages, and the artwork is bogged down with tiny figures and frenetic, confusing layouts trying to cram too much action into too few pages.

It apparently didn't sell too well, because the second issue, hyped on the inside back cover, didn't come out until two years later, from a different publisher (AmeriComics, who also reprinted issue one). Five years later, according to this page, a third issue was again self-published by the author. Then in 1995, twelve years after the first issue was published, four issues were published by Millenium Publications (whether they were new material or not, I can't say--I only have the first issue from 1983 and the second issue from 1985).

Speaking of the second issue, you know what never gets old? X-Men parodies. /sarc

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Big Audio Wednesday - Too Many Blue Beetles

Just one episode today, or perhaps I should say two. Like the previous Blue Beetle episodes I've posted, there are two episodes in one file.

Like the 60's Batman TV show, Blue Beetle was broadcast twice a week, with one storyline spanning both episodes.

In this week's story, the Blue Beetle battles a new syndicate that has a sinister plan to discredit him by hiring thugs to commit crimes while wearing copies of his costume. So that plot was probably getting old by 1940, when this show was first broadcast. Audio quality is pretty poor on this one, and there are no technological breakthroughs like the previous episode I posted in which Dr. Franz sends the Blue Beetle extra "vitality" via cell phone (or as a gamer friend likes to say, "let me text you some hit points"), but the savage ending makes up for it, I think. Take my word for it, you don't want to impersonate the Blue Beetle.

Click the widget to listen and enjoy.